Health Highlights: May 12, 2009

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Kids' Face Paint Product May Be Contaminated, FDA Warns

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found "significant microbial contamination" in a brand of water-based face paints used by children, and has warned consumers to stop using the products, United Press International reports.

The cosmetic paints -- manufactured by a Shanghai company and distributed across the United States -- are being recalled by Fun Express Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oriental Trading Co., because of skin reactions in children who used the products, UPI reported.

    • Kids' Face Paint Product May Be Contaminated, FDA Warns
    • FDA Challenges Cheerios Health Claims
    • Weight Worries Still Nag U.S. Women: Poll
    • FDA Probes 2 Delaware Deaths That May Be Linked to Heparin
    • Obama Praises Health Industry's Offer of Savings

"The FDA has learned of a cluster of adverse events in children exposed to various colors of the face paint," the FDA said in a statement. "All exposures occurred on the same day at an organized event and included rashes, itchiness, burning sensation and swelling where the face paints were applied. Significant microbial contamination was indicated in most of the products in testing by a FDA laboratory."

The FDA is asking consumers to report adverse events from the paints to state and local health officials, or by calling the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.


FDA Challenges Cheerios Health Claims

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking issue with Cheerios maker General Mills Inc., citing company claims that the cereal lowers cholesterol and can help treat heart disease, the Bloomberg news service reports.

The FDA told Bloomberg that it allows food companies to make 17 nutrition claims based on scientific studies and company petitions, but that Cheerios' claim of its cholesterol-lowering ability weren't cleared by the agency. The FDA said the heart disease and cancer claims on the Cheerios' Web site should include language saying that fruits and vegetables also help reduce risks, Bloomberg reported.

In a warning letter to General Mills, the FDA said the claim about Cheerios "does not enable the public to understand the significance of the claim in the context of the total daily diet." General Mills could face a court injunction or product seizure if it doesn't fix the issue within 15 days of the May 5 letter, Bloomberg reported.

General Mills was quick to respond that the science of its claims is not in question. "The FDA is interested in how the Cheerios cholesterol-lowering information is presented on the Cheerios package and Web site," Tom Forsythe, a spokesman for the Minneapolis-based company, said in an e-mailed statement, Bloomberg reported. "We look forward to discussing this with FDA and to reaching a resolution," Forsythe said.

According to General Mills' Web site, Cheerios has advertised that it can "lower your cholesterol 4 percent in 6 weeks" for more than two years.


Weight Worries Still Nag U.S. Women: Poll

A new Associated Press-iVillage poll suggests that many American women are unhappy with their figures, yet they face a disconnect between what they perceive a healthy body image to be and true physical conditioning.

The poll, conducted from April 20-30 by Knowledge Networks, contacted 1,000 women by telephone and mail, then questioned them online, providing Internet access for those who needed it. Among the poll's findings:

  • Half of the women surveyed said they didn't like their weight. In fact, 26 percent of poll participants whose body-mass index (BMI) -- a measure of weight for height -- was in the normal range still reported being unhappy with their shape.
  • Only 8 percent of women ate the minimum recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and 28 percent admitted they only took in the recommended servings once a week or less.
  • Women put in a median of 80 minutes of exercise a week, meaning half did even less. The average adult is supposed to get 2 1/2 hours of exercise a week for good health.
  • A quarter of the women polled said they'd consider plastic surgery to feel better about their body, and most would choose a tummy tuck.
  • Even among normal-weight women, a full 16 percent said they were dieting to drop pounds.

"The priorities are flipped," Dr. Molly Poag, chief of psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told the pollsters. She suggested that women athletes are a better role model for women than supermodels. "There's an undervaluing of physical fitness and an overvaluing of absolute weight and appearance for women in our culture," Poag said.


FDA Probes 2 Delaware Deaths That May Be Linked to Heparin

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent a team to investigate the deaths of two Delaware patients who died over the weekend after taking the blood thinner heparin, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The deaths were confirmed by a spokesman from Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, Del., after three people suffered medical problems after using heparin. All three people were using the drug supplied by Baxter International Inc., of Deerfield, Ill., although the spokesman said there is no evidence that directly ties heparin to the deaths, the Journal reported. Baxter spokeswoman Erin Gardiner told the newspaper that the company immediately contacted the FDA, and both the agency and Baxter sent medical teams to Delaware to investigate.

The people who died, identified only as a 71-year-old man and a 64-year-old woman, were flown by helicopter from Beebe. One died at Christiana Hospital in Delaware, and the other died at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Gardiner said both received pre-mixed intravenous bags of heparin.

In 2008, tainted heparin bulk supplies, vials of the medicine and drug-coated medical devices reportedly were tied to some 80 deaths and led to a recall of heparin from several companies. The current investigation is so far focused on North American sources and not products from China, according to the Journal. Last year's cases mostly involved allergic reactions and cardiac complications, while the Delaware deaths involved cranial bleeding, Gardiner told the newspaper.


Obama Praises Health Industry's Offer of Savings

Calling it a "watershed event," President Barack Obama has applauded an offer by health-care industry leaders to voluntarily slow rate increases. The move is designed to help provide heath insurance for the estimated 50 million Americans who have none and who are a focal point of the administration's health-care reform proposals, the Associated Press reported.

The industry leaders -- representing sectors including hospitals, doctors and insurers -- offered the president more than $2 trillion in rate reductions over the next 10 years and pledged to cut the growth rate for health care by 1.5 percentage points each year, the wire service said. The industry groups' offer doesn't resolve prickly details of the emerging health-care plan overall, but does put the health-care industry in a position to influence legislation that Congress is writing.

By offering the savings now, these private sector health-care groups hope to avoid creation of a competing government health plan that would enroll middle-class workers and their families, the AP said. Additionally, hospitals and doctors are worried that any government-run plan could dictate what they get paid to care for patients, and drug makers are concerned that future medications could face tougher cost-benefit analysis before new drugs could win approval.

While it's unclear whether the proposed rate reductions will prove decisive in passing more encompassing health-care legislation, the promised savings could accrue to society as a whole, not just the federal government, the AP reported. A key point is that specific federal savings would be needed to help pay for expanding insurance coverage. U.S. costs for a health-care overhaul could range from $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years, according to the AP, but Obama has so far only outlined where he would get about half that amount.

"I will not rest until the dream of health-care reform is achieved in the United States of America," Obama said in the White House's State Dining Room as he announced the offer, the AP reported. "We can't continue down the same dangerous road we've been traveling for so many years. Reform is not a luxury that can be postponed, but a necessity that cannot wait."